Hercules, Master Chef

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Hercules, Master Chef

Also Known As: "Herculas", "Uncle Harkless", "Head Cook Pres. George Washington`s Philadelphia home.", "a celebrated dandy"
Birthplace: Virginia, United States
Death: (Date and location unknown)
Immediate Family:

Husband of Alice
Father of Richmond; Evey; Delia and youngest daughter of Hercules

Occupation: Master Chef, Chef
Managed by: Kenneth Kwame Welsh, (C)
Last Updated:
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Immediate Family

About Hercules, Master Chef

Hercules, Master Chef, "a celebrated artiste"

Very little is known of Hercules. This profile is meant to honor what we do know of his life.

Hercules gained fame as a ''Chef of fine French cuisine'' and ''simple Frontier cooking'' for President George Washington at his Mount Vernon home, in the 1780`s and in his Philadelphia home, in the early 1790`s [http://www.philly.com/philly/restaurants/Inq_HT_hercules.html?c=r]
It seems Hercules had a culinary mentor by the name of ''Samuel Fraunces''.
Historians at this time do not know what race Samuel was. [http://www.gilttaste.com/stories/4534-george-washington-s-celebrity-chef] Quite possibly'' "a freeman of color"''
see profile for Samuel Fraunces []
Hercules was moved from the kitchen at Mount Vernon, to the kitchen in Philadelphia in about 1790.
A White Chef, ''Chef John Vicar'', has been dismissed from his duties as Head Chef and Hercules is now in full charge of the Philadelphia home kitchen.
We do know that Hercules would have been in complete control of this kitchen, which included Black Slaves, paid White Servants, and Indentured White Servants.
President George Washington`s ''step-grandson'' ''George Washington Parke Custis'' wrote of ''Hercules:''
"Under his iron disipline, woe to the underlings if speck or spot could be discovered on the tables or desserts, or if the utensils did not shine like polished silver...there was no arrest of punishment for judgement and execution went hand in hand..." [http://www.gilttaste.com/stories/4534-george-washington-s-celebrity-chef]
Though himself a Slave, Hercules was allowed to receive gifts of all kinds and to sell slops from the kitchen, earning Hercules about $200.00 Dollars per Year additional income. ($100.00 was the average  salary at the time)
Hercules, unlike other Slaves, would enter and exit through the ''front entrance'' in Pres. Washington`s Philadelphia home. 
It is believed, that Hercules, though still a Slave, would have enjoyed occasional company with Black Freemen, including Thomas Jefferson`s Cook- ''James Hemings''.
Hercules, "a celebrated dandy" would have been seen walking in the streets of Philadelphia, sporting a velvet waist coat and gold handled cane. [http://www.npr.org/2008/02/19/18950467/hercules-and-hemings-presidents-slave-chefs]
Later, in the Year of 1796, Hercules had a son Richmond who had made a bad choice to steal money from a saddlebag of a White Servant.
Having been caught, Hercules and Richmond were sent back to Mount Vernon, where surely Richmond was put to hard labor.
 On President George Washington`s 65th birthday- 2/22/1797, Hercules decided to escape Slavery and leaving son Richmond and the other children behind, he ran off. Perhaps Hercules, not having a kitchen to work in anymore, felt the burden of Slavery.
Searches were conducted and notices hung, but Hercules was never found and History has lost track of him.

Hercules gained his freedom in 1/1/1801 History indicates he may never have known that he was truly a Freeman.

Why did Hercules pick his masters birthday as his escape date? Was there a significance to this or a pure coincidence? The following link, is in PDF form and has interesting angles about the probable whereabouts of Hercules-after he fled. You decide what became of him.[



Hercules ("Herculas", "Uncle Harkless") was the head cook at George Washington's Virginia plantation Mount Vernon in the 1780s. In November 1790, he was brought to Philadelphia (then the national capital) to work in the kitchen of the President's House.

Hercules escaped from slavery in 1797 from Mount Vernon and made his way to Philadelphia and, by 1801, New York City.[1][2] Included in Washington's 1801 will among the slaves he owned and freed, Hercules was legally freed by Martha Washington within the year,[3] but there is no evidence that he learned this.

Hercules was born probably around 1755 and was either the child of Washington's slaves or was purchased following Washington's 1759 marriage to the widow Martha Custis. He was held at Mount Vernon, the plantation of George Washington, located on the Potomac River south of what became Washington, D.C.

Hercules took Alice, one of Martha Washington's "dower" slaves, as a wife, and they had four children: Richmond (born 1777), Evey (born 1782), Delia (born 1785) and a daughter (born c. 1791). The first three children were listed with Hercules and his wife in the February 1786 Mount Vernon Slave Census; he was one of two cooks in the Mansion House. Alice died in 1787.


Washington's Chef

He was one of the first great chefs of Philadelphia — in fact, of the young nation. The master cook who prepared elaborate banquets in President George Washington’s home on Market Street had only one name: Hercules.

In the mansion’s open-hearth kitchen,  underlings scurried to execute the orders of Hercules. But to Washington,  Hercules was  that “species of property” — a slave. Recent controversy over the President’s House, at Sixth and Market, has renewed interest in Hercules and the lives of the other eight slaves who worked for Washington during his presidency in Philadelphia from 1790 to 1797. Their story surged into the international spotlight with the 2007 dig that unearthed the kitchen foundation and an underground passageway leading to it, obviously used by servants. Ironically, the kitchen where Hercules toiled was just in front of the new Liberty Bell Center.
The attention, along with queries from The Inquirer, led to a reexamination of historical documents regarding Hercules’ life and especially his escape in 1797, when he disappeared never to be captured again.
One document, a Mount Vernon farm report, has established new facts: Hercules did not escape from his privileged post in Philadelphia in early March, as had been widely believed. He fled Washington’s Virginia plantation, where he had been transferred and put on hard labor — and his disappearance was discovered on his master’s 65th birthday.
 Thus, the saga of Hercules has emerged as compelling historical drama: his rise from plantation slave to respected chef in the president’s kitchen, his appearance as a loyal servant trusted to stroll the city’s boulevards in fine clothes, and his clever escape.

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Hercules, Master Chef's Timeline

Virginia, United States
Age 22
Mount Vernon, Fairfax, VA, USA
Age 27
Mount Vernon, Fairfax, VA, USA
Age 30
Mount Vernon, Fairfax, VA, USA
Age 36
Mount Vernon, Fairfax, VA, USA